The Rest of the Story...
The Rest of the Story... (my tribute to Paul Harvey)
Born in 1791, the son of a New England Calvinist pastor, Sam was one of three surviving children out of eleven born to the same mother. Early in life he developed an interest in writing, drawing, and painting. His talent became obvious to all who would witness his efforts. The family's strong religious principles were reflected prominently in his writings and artwork, but rather than follow in his father's footsteps as a minister, Sam's passion for art led him on a journey to find a place of acceptance amongst professional practitioners of the craft. His father's influence on him was not limited, however, to just Heavenly endeavors. You see, Sam's father practiced a side vocation as a geographer, involving precision instruments of measurement and copious amounts of detailed note taking.
Upon coming of age, young Sam left home to study art at Yale University, ultimately graduating in 1810 with Phi Beta Kappa honors - at age 19. So impressed was Jedidiah with his son's accomplishment that he arranged for Sam to attend the Royal Academy of the Arts, in London. After winning high acclaim for his talents there, Sam decided to return home to the United States in 1915 to ply his talents as a professional painter. Success was elusive, however. It seemed Americans of the day were more interested in paying relatively low sums for portraits of themselves rather than more substantial amounts for the type of grand historical scenes that Sam had perfected. To pay the bills, he accepted commissions to paint such notables as President John Adams, Dartmouth College president Francis Brown, President James Monroe, Eli Whitney, and even the Marquis de Lafayette of France. In 1822, he completed a 7x11-foot canvas depicting the House of Representatives in session, a subject never before attempted at such a scale. Still, times were getting tough. The quintessential starving artist phenomenon was taking hold, so in 1832, Sam accepted a position at New York University as a professor of art.
Lucretia, wife to Sam and mother to his two boys and one girl, died soon after childbirth in 1825. Poor Sam's despondence lingered for years, as he wrote to daughter Susan about the "depth of the wound that was inflicted when I was deprived of your dear mother, nor in how many ways that wound has been kept open." Living on the edge of poverty, he sent his two sons to live with his brother. Finally a break seemed to be within reach when a bid was opened for the painting of historic scenes on four large panels in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. - precisely matching with Sam's forte and favored subject type. He lobbied hard for the job, which promised to pay $10,000, and thereby remove the heavy burden of poverty from this shoulders. Alas, it was not to be. Sam attributed the loss to vengeance on the part of certain legislators for his outspokenness on opposing political matters. It was at that point that Sam declared an end to his pursuits as a professional artist, and turned instead to his other interest wherein he dabbled from time to time since boyhood - gadgetry.
Let us back up a bit in time, though. Believing that a stint in Paris was just the thing a serious artist needed to forge credibility, Sam had set out in 1829 to fill the void. "My education as a painter is incomplete without it." While in Paris, he befriended Louis Daguerre, a theatrical painter, but also the now well-known early pioneer in photography whose daguerreotype process revolutionized commercial photography. The two got along famously, even though neither spoke the other's language very well. They discussed not only art, but also things mechanical and the still relatively new field of electrical apparati. Sam began experimenting with his device after the death of Lucretia. He described to Daguerre an idea he had been working on for long distance communications, and Daguerre spoke of his cameras. The two men were each other's best advocates in each other's homeland. By 1832, Sam had completed his tour in Paris and returned home once again, this time with a 6x9-foot canvas in tow that depicted an interior view of the chamber of the Louvre in which hung the Mona Lisa and other notables. It was to be his pièce de résistance and a sure ticket to success in America. Sam had hope to be rewarded for his efforts to the tune of at least $2,500, but the painting brought a mere $1,200. The allure of the art world was fading quickly.
With his attention now turned fully to his inventive skills, and having long been fascinated with news of Wheatstone, Weber, Henry, and other's work on long distance communications via electric wires, Sam made great progress in overcoming some of the fundamental limitations of the day. Weak electromagnets and lossy wires, as well as poorly designed encoding of messages were the main obstacles to success at distances more than a few tens of feet, and manual reception of messages was time-consuming, even for experienced operators. With improved electromagnets and a series of relay stations, akin to modern repeaters, a third of a mile distance between transmitter and receiver was achieved, followed by connections between cities. The grand culmination of his efforts took place at 8:45 am, on May 24, 1844, when the message, "What hath God wrought?" was printed out on paper in a series of dots and dashes, having been sent from the Supreme Court chamber in the basement of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., to B&O Railroad's Mount Clare Station in Baltimore, Maryland.
It was that event which made Sam the subject of every American history book and many biographies and science tomes to this very day. You learned about him in school as Samuel Morse - Samuel Finley Breese Morse. His invention of the single-wire electromagnetic telegraph and accompanying Morse code revolutionized communications is known to all throughout the world.
Oh, and that painting of the Louvre that sold for a pitiful $1,200 in 1833 - Morse's masterpiece sold at auction in 1982 for $3,250,000. Today it hangs in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C.
And now you know.... the rest of the story.
Samuel Morse References: Smorgasbord item from it.
Posted on 10/6/2011
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